A Qualicum Beach councillor who is running to become the town’s next mayor was censured after he allegedly violated a policy on bullying and harassment, the municipality has disclosed.
Coun. Teunis Westbroek was censured by his fellow councillors in December 2021. A statement on the censure was posted on the Town’s website in January of this year saying that the reason was due to “conduct unbecoming of a member” of council but no other details were disclosed until earlier this month.
In a statement dated Sept. 9 and posted online, the Town of Qualicum Beach said the reason Westbroek was censured was that he asked staff to “destroy records, specifically records associated with a previous finding against him, which determined that he had violated” their bullying and harassment policy.
“Council took this matter very seriously and would not have taken such actions over a minor concern. Council assures the community that due process and procedural fairness were followed for the initial censure process in December 2021,” the statement reads.
Westbroek was Qualicum Beach’s mayor from 1998 to 2018 and has been a councillor since then.
According to the Town of Qualicum Beach, the reason few details were originally released shortly after the censure was that Westbroek had intended to retire from municipal politics.
“The original statement contained limited content at Councillor Westbroek’s request when he declared to Council his intention to retire from public office at the conclusion of this term,” the statement reads.
However, after Westbroek publicly stated his intention to run for mayor, councillors voted to disclose more information about the censure at a special meeting closed meeting on Sept. 6, arguing that it was “the public’s interest,” according to the municipality.
That meeting was called by the current mayor, Brian Wiese, who is seeking re-election. Mayor Wiese along with councillors Scott Harrison and Robert Filmer were present and voted in favour of disclosing details about the censure, according to the PBQ News.
“Councillor Westbroek was expressly notified in advance of the meeting date, time and purpose of the meeting, of his right to legal counsel to represent his interests, and he was given a copy of all materials relied upon by Council in its deliberation on these matters. Prior to Council’s consideration of and voting on the motion to release of further information, he was given an opportunity to respond,” the statement reads.
In a statement on his website, Westbroek said he made a mistake and apologized for the incident that lead to the censure, but also questioned the timing, calling it “political games.”
“I made a mistake, I apologized for it, and everyone moved on. Or so everyone thought. Then, 10 days after my candidacy is announced, the mayor and the 2 councillors most closely aligned with him, pass a motion to release further details from a long ago, now resolved incident? The voters are too smart for that. They will recognize political games when they see them being played,” the statement reads.
Speaking to CHEK News, Westbroek explained that the incident that resulted in his censure occurred in 2019 during a “very contentious council meeting” in which he was under a lot of personal stress. He said the mics were turned off when he made the request to the staff member, and that he apologized right away.
“I know I was wrong and I apologized to the staff person immediately both verbally and in writing,” he said. “I felt terrible.”
Westbroek said the records referenced in the Town of Qualicum Beach’s statement was the “personal opinion” of a former staff member that was not initiated at the direction of council or by a formal complaint.
“It never was received back at a council meeting, which would normally happen during an in-camera meeting,” Westbroek said. “There was no mediation. There was just a letter from one staff member who recorded what happened.”
According to Westbroek, he never requested the municipality to limit what was contained in their January 2022 statement regarding the censure regardless of whether he was planning on stepping down.
“That is a very fabricated story that serves their purpose … because they had to come up with some kind of excuse as to why they were doing it,” he said, adding that he was in Europe at the time the statement was published and was considering not running in the October election.
Westbroek said he questioned the motivation of council and called the timing of the most recent censure statement political gamesmanship.
“I think people can see this for what it is,” he said.
Westbroek also believes Mayor Wiese was in conflict when he voted to release the reason for his censure because the matter involved someone running for mayor.
“I think the mayor may feel threatened that I may actually get re-elected as mayor again made this desperate dirty trick to tell people about what happened a long time ago, which I have long apologized for,” he said.
“This is not good for the town’s reputation,” he said, later adding.
Westbroek said the entire saga has hurt the town’s reputation. He also said he’s focused on serving the people of Qualicum Beach and on the issues that matter to residents in the upcoming municipal election.
“I just hope we don’t get into an American-style politics and that we can talk about the issues,” he said.
General voting day for the B.C. municipal elections takes place Saturday, Oct. 15.